Let’s start with a quick bio about what HockeyWilderness.com is and how you started there. Tell our readers a little about you.
I started at Hockey Wilderness after a couple years of doing my own thing on Facebook where I’d write my own little scouting reports after the summer rookie development camp. In fact, my first post on the site was exactly what I did on Facebook, but more in blog-form. That all started in July and August of 2013, and I assumed control after the former editor stepped away to concentrate on her law degree in the spring of 2014.
That was when the Wild beat the Avs in 7, and followed it up with beating the Blues in 6 the next year. It was a good time to jump on and get rolling as we thought then that the Wild were on the way up. Instead, it’s stagnated. But when I took over, I pivoted the site more towards Minnesota hockey. I had aspirations to cover the Wild, college, and even high school hockey.
So far we have the Wild, Gopher women’s hockey and the 5 Division I Men’s programs. We also pride ourselves on opinion and analysis that you couldn’t find on other sites covering the Wild. We’re never going to beat the beat writers for the two newspapers in town or The Athletic, but we can still differentiate ourselves with more fan opinion and fun. We are a fan-run site for fans of the team, and we do our best to give you things to think about.
What moves this offseason have the Wild done that have you guys talking? What’s your level of optimism heading into the season?
The lack of moves by new GM Paul Fenton has us talking. Sure, on the first day of free agency the Wild signed 7 players, but outside of Greg Pateryn to fill a 3rd pair defenseman role and J.T. Brown for bottom 6 speed and depth, the other 5 players are mostly “meh.” Eric Fehr might be OK, Matt Hendricks is really old and often in and out of the line-up, and really not much in terms of impact from the others.
But owner Craig Leipold said this team needed tweaking to get over the hump, and that forced the decision to fire Chuck Fletcher. Fenton was hired and we got…a whole lot of nothing. No trades have been made, they made a gigantic reach in the draft, free agency was bland, and the only thing of any real substance was the two RFA deals of Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba.
I guess that’s alright that Fenton didn’t force anything and get fleeced, but it’s that lack of any impact move that has most fans talking rather than anything that has actually been consummated.
What do you think of the Blues offseason transactions? Any thoughts on what that does for the Blues?
With the additions of David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Ryan O’Reilly (I can’t wait for the first time Mike Yeo calls him “Factor” like Patrick Roy did as head coach of the Avalanche. Roy is such a rube), I think the Blues are very strong down the middle. Vladimir Tarasenko is ever dangerous, Robby Fabbri looks like the making of a stud if he can stay healthy, and with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko on the blue line, it’s hard not to think that the Blues got better and more formidable up front. That is…in front of the net.
Armstrong did almost nothing to address the goaltending situation. Jake Allen was absolutely abysmal last season. Chad Johnson isn’t the answer either. I just can’t think how they don’t try and bring someone in as insurance for Allen. If I’m a Blues fan, that’s the story I watch all season long. Allen has the athleticism and ability to be really good, couple that with Yeo’s system, he should be near the top 3-4 in the division. So while I think that a case can be made that the Blues return to the post-season next year, I think a case can be made for them to miss it as well.
What’s your way too early outlook on what the Central Division looks like at the end of the year?
I think Winnipeg and Nashville are the class of the Central this season. I’d put them in the first tier. Just below that, I put St. Louis, Minnesota, and Colorado in the second tier. Follow that with the Stars in a tier by themselves, and Chicago just didn’t do anything to get better and there’s just not enough answers on what’s plaguing Corey Crawford yet to think they’ll be back in the spot light next year.
So, to put that all together, I think the Central sends 4 teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Winnipeg and Nashville fighting for the Central title, and two of that tier on STL, MIN, and COL fighting for two spots. In my opinion, I just don’t the think Wild have it in them to reach the post-season. Too much requirement on players staying healthy, and the need for more input from the middle 20-somethings to make it all happen.
Minnesota is always rocking, you guys have a ton of passionate fans, how much of it is a thrill to be there in the Xcel?
Minnesota fans are treated to classy confine in the Xcel Energy Center. And the fans here are certainly passionate. But I sometimes think that the fans get too comfortable and sit back and watch rather than get loud…at least during the regular season. I think there are some things both fans and the Game Operations staff could do to make the experience in the arena better, but make no bones about it, a game experience at the X is still one of the best game experiences around.
And when the X is rocking, the atmosphere inside the building and the total vibe is just awesome. And that’s not counting when the Frozen Four is in town with UMD or the University of Minnesota in the tourney, or the MN State High School Hockey Tournament is in full swing.